On our recent trip to Ireland, we visited the Jeanie Johnston Famine Ship Museum. It is a replica of the ship that brought many starving Irish immigrants to North America during the Great Irish Famine. The original ship was built in Quebec and purchased by a family in County Kerry, Ireland to transport cargo for their business.
The ship made its first voyage on April 24th, 1848 from Ireland to North America. When we were on the tour, it felt cramped with about 17 of us on the ship. That first voyage carried 193 people across the Atlantic Ocean. Over 16 voyages the Jeanie Johnston carried 2,500 Irish men, women and children to a new life. Many other ships doing this kind of voyage at the time were called coffin ships because so many passengers died on them. But the Jeanie Johnston never lost one passenger because of an astute captain and a devoted young doctor.
I cannot imagine what it took to leave the only village you’ve ever known, starving, and get on a small boat to travel into the unknown. What those people must have gone through. They knew they had one chance and they took it. During the famine, one million Irish died and one million emigrated.
And because of the all the Irish who emigrated, a small island of 4 million has 70 million descendants around the world.
It makes me think of when W.B. Yeats said, “But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”
Their only dream was survival and in the most challenging circumstances they followed that dream. Although most of us are not dreaming of survival, following our dreams will breathe new life into our days. Are we willing to take a chance and go on a journey that could change everything?